Mayor Bill Bell of Durham, N.C., urged advocacy groups last week to halt efforts to change how the local school board is elected, saying it would only intensify racial tensions.
The Durham Citizens for Accountable Government and the Durham Regional Association of Realtors are working to put a referendum on the November ballot to allow citizens to vote for more at-large members and not just the one representing their voting district.
The current board makeup was established more than a decade ago to ensure equal representation when the mostly white suburban schools around Durham merged with the predominantly black city district. But the board of the 31,000-student Durham district has been marked by racially tinged controversy, with meetings regularly erupting into shouting matches.
Tony Craver, the president of the Realtors’ group, said the changes would make board members accountable to all residents of the area, not just those from their own voting districts. “The current system is obviously not working very well,” he said.